Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”. ~ C.S. Lewis
Before listening, before doing anything or saying anything to the hurting person, we have the task of keeping our own attitudes in check.
We won’t always understand another person’s struggle. We won’t always agree with their choices. And we certainly aren’t called to be their fixers. If our approach to the hurting person is to fix them, we’re likely to do harm, however well intended. God heals. We’re just here to lighten the load.
A few things to try;
- Listen – Listen without assumption. Listen like you’ve never heard or experienced anything like this before so that you really hear what’s being said, not what you expect to hear.
*Caveat – Not everyone wants to talk. And even if they do, you may not be the person they choose to share with. There’s a difference between being an attentive listener and going in with a crowbar.
- Touch – Sometimes a touch on the arm, holding a hand or a hug conveys caring in a way that words can’t.
*Caveat – Some people don’t like to be touched. It’s not up to you to decide that what they need is a good hug. If a person stiffens or pulls away from your touch, honor their physical space without disconnecting emotionally.
- Pray – If you have a shared faith, you may want to pray out loud with them.
*Caveat – If the individual doesn’t share your belief system, praying can be construed as preaching. Your lips don’t have to move for God to hear your heart.
- Act – Look for practical ways to lighten the load. Give a gift a certificate for a pizza, do yard work, run an errand etc…
*Caveat – We often say, Please call me if you need anything and almost no one does. If you know there is a need (and the need isn’t always for yet another casserole) assist or enlist another to assist when you can’t. Don’t expect the hurting person to ask. That said, it’s important to be certain that the hurting person is OK with your help. Honor their boundaries.
Above all, remember that it takes immense courage to be vulnerable. When someone trusts you enough to truly let you in, tread softly because you will, without a doubt, be leaving footprints.